The UK Capacity Debate: The Davies Commission

13 July 2013: In the third instalment in our coverage of the UK airport capacity and expansion debate we take a look at the Airports Commission, headed by Sir Howard Davies, which will make recommendations to the Government on the nation’s future airport capacity.


Why do we need a commission?

With the UK’s international hub airport (Heathrow) running at 98 per cent capacity, emerging economies on the rise, and competing European nations capitalizing on airport expansion – the UK is in between a rock and a hard place when it comes to airport capacity. The aviation industry employs over 234,000 people directly (supporting many more indirectly) and contributes more than £18 billion to the economy (Source: BATA ), yet this is limited by the lack of direct flight connections to emerging markets brought about by limited capacity. It is estimated that the UK could be missing out on up to £14 billion of trade due to these constraints.

The situation has created incredible debate as to how, when, where and what could be done to solve this complex issue. Construction costs, economic futures, land availability, noise pollution, transport infrastructure, wildlife, climate change, employment, established business and airline industry locations, and travel time are just some of the many factors driving the debate.

Enter the Airports Commission. Late 2012 (September 7 to be precise), the UK Government announced Sir Howard Davies would chair a commission to get to the bottom of the debate and come up with recommendations on how best to expand airport capacity and support UK economic growth.

What is it doing now?

It is gathering evidence about current and future airport capacity and all the factors that influence and affect this. It has also asked for submissions on proposals for future capacity – where to build new runways as well as how to make better use of existing capacity.

Where to from here?

A July 19 deadline has been set for expansion proposals to be submitted to the Airports Commission, with an interim report on their analysis expected by the end of 2013. The media have already predicted that proposals could include a third-runway at Heathrow (look out for Heathrow’s formal submission soon), an additional runway, or even two, at Stansted Airport, four-runway Thames Estuary designs (including “Boris Island”), and a second runway at Gatwick Airport.

The Department of Transport has stated that the interim report will set out an assessment on what is required to keep the UK moving forward as a global hub, while also outlining immediate actions for the next 5 years. If all things go to plan, the 2015 summer should see the Commission publish a final report outlining its recommendations for how the UK can best move forward with airport capacity.

Who is Sir Howard Davies?

Knighted in 2000, Sir Howard Davies is best known for his role as Chairman of the UK Financial Services Authority, which controlled regulation of the financial industry, from 1997 until 2003. Since then, Sir Howard has spent time as the Director of the London School of Economics and Political Science from 2003 until 2011. Outside of talking finance, he is reportedly a Manchester City supporter and a cricket lover.

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